Cocktails and 'small plates' on the menu at glamorous new restaurant

The 'moody' dining area at Kintsu Colchester

The 'moody' dining area at Kintsu Colchester - Credit: Kintsu

Bold. Dynamic. Inventive. 

These are just three adjectives which could aptly describe the recently-opened restaurant Kintsu at 11a North Hill, Colchester, where a moody, atmospheric colour scheme, and soft lighting create an enigmatic and rather glamorous setting for the small-plate menu. 

The name Kintsu derives from the Japanese art of Kintsugi, whereby a broken piece of crockery is melded back together harmoniously using gold...becoming perhaps even more beautiful, and stronger, than it was before. 

This simple term really does sum up the story of award-winning chef Paul Wenholdt’s business. Paul previously ran highly successful restaurant Grain on the premises with business partner and fellow chef Jordan Sidwell, but with the lease up for renewal on a 10-year plan and lockdown looming, they decided to part ways amicably early in 2020. 

Chefs in the kitchen at Kintsu Colchester

Chef patron Paul Wenholdt (right) working in the kitchen at new restaurant Kintsu - Credit: Kintsu

While Paul didn’t have plans to stay in the premises, a new deal was struck with the landlord, and a vision for a new direction and entirely new business has kept him firmly in place – in what is a completely different restaurant. 

Remarkably, the transformation has largely been backed financially (as was Grain) by Crowdfunding, with Paul raising an astonishing £28,000 in six hours - £8,000 more than his target. 

“It was incredible,” the chef patron says. “When we were Grain it was impressive because we were unknown. But know, our backers know me, my food and what I stand for.” 

Inside Kintsu in Colchester

Inside Kintsu in Colchester - Credit: Kintsu

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The interior of Kintsu is unrecognisable. Kitchen space has been increased to allow more room for cold work and pastry prep. And the dining area and entrance are a vision of sleek urban cool, having been designed by Paul’s wife Laura. “She’s done all of the décor and interiors at home and really has an eye for it. I wanted her to be heavily involved in the restaurant this time around. And I wanted this to be somewhere different for Colchester. 

“The remit I gave Laura was that I wanted it to be dramatic. The kind of place you go into and appreciate the way it looks – but that you wouldn’t necessarily want to live in. We’ve gone for lots of moody greys. It’s a definitely move away from the rustic bare wood of Grain.” 

But something that isn’t going to change is the style of food. A flexible menu of small dishes, harnessing the very best of what’s in season and available locally, with simple, dynamic twists that make every element shine. 

Paul says he doesn’t want to Kintsu to be bigger than Grain...but better. Even better than before. Working with more small producers. And staging the menu to be an experience. 

“We made a move towards using more local produce, and it was always our ambition at Grain,” he says, “but when it came to building relationships with farmers and butchers and fishermen, it ran away with us a bit,” Paul admits. “We were too busy to put the hours into finding these people. But this time around we’ve been conscious of it. We’ve got a mandate for ourselves in the kitchen and we’ve gone out and found small suppliers who we will always go to first, using bigger suppliers as a fallback. 

A fish dish on the menu of new small plates restaurant Kintsu in Colchester

A fish dish on the menu of new small plates restaurant Kintsu in Colchester - Credit: Kintsu

“Our fishmonger is from Mersea. They’ve got a couple of day boats and fish in the waters off the Island. And we work with Holt Farm in Great Oakley. So we’ll ring them and ask ‘what do you have at the moment?’ ‘what’s good?’, then write our dishes around that. 

The menu will change regularly, with bits and pieces changing throughout the week, supplemented by seasonal favourites. 

Begin with the kitchen’s own warm, crusty beer bread and flavoured butter (currently umami roasted yeast scented). 

Then turn your attentions to the concise list of culinary delights.  

“Before, we had the menu laid out in sections of water, garden, and land – so fish, vegetables and meat. This time, with Kintsu, there are no sections that set it apart, except for sweet and savoury. 

“It’s written down in the order you might like to eat the dishes – so, from lightest to heaviest. One thing we came up against creatively at Grain was that we found it difficult to do cold meat dishes because we had this mindset of veg, then fish then meat. To have a risotto, and then scallops followed by something like a ham hock terrine felt backwards.” 

It’s recommended to choose three to four savoury dishes per person...which will arrive to the table in the order they appear on the menu. Or, order everything to share – as many do. 

“So, at the moment we have a roasted carrot dish, then a pork shoulder terrine early on in the menu. Further down is a heavier dish of beetroots cooked in duck fat. We’ve given ourselves license to put the plates where we want them to give people an idea of how to build their meal. Before we were saying having something vegetarian, then fish, then meat. Now we’d say, go for something from the top, the middle and the bottom. I think it’s really well balanced.” 

What does Paul recommend? 

“We’ve got some beautiful asparagus from Ardleigh served with asparagus and fermented garlic puree and sunflower seed pesto. That was one of the first dishes we put on. 

“And there’s wood-roasted cauliflower, rubbed in chipotle. It’s like a spiced cauliflower cheese, with Lincolnshire Poacher custard and avocado puree – so it has a bit of a Mexican vibe running through it. 

Chipotle cauliflower with Lincolnshire Poacher custard and avocado puree at Kintsu, Colchester

Chipotle cauliflower with Lincolnshire Poacher custard and avocado puree at Kintsu, Colchester - Credit: Kintsu

“From the butchers in Wivenhoe we’ve got some lamb neck that we cook over fire. Then we make a lamb ragu out of some of the trimmings and serve that in a tart case on the side with peas and broad beans. 

“We’ve got a local chocolate dessert on. We’re buying our chocolate from Pump Street in Orford. That’s a set mamlaka – like a cross between a mousse and ganache with lots of richness and salty umami going on. 

“And there’s also a bit of rhubarb. We take rhubarb and sorrel from Holt Farm and poach it, with a rhubarb granita.” 

Diners can imbibe themselves on a wine and spirit list that champions English producers. “We’ve made a real effort to choose not just English wine, but local wine. It’s actually so good,” says Paul, “and we’ve had great conversations with people who were expecting English wine to be a bit rubbish! We’ve actually got a dessert wine from New Hall which is quite unusual.” 

English wines and Essex beers feature on the list at Kintsu

English wines and Essex beers feature on the list at Kintsu - Credit: Kintsu

There are also, of course, cocktails. Although it’s a short, and growing, offering at the moment. Try the Pink Gin Fizz, with pomegranate gin, lemon and rose syrup and prosecco. Or the Espresso Martini, made with cold brew coffee, coffee syrup, and Essex-made coffee and cacao vodka, with a siphoned froth of Frangelico and hazelnut milk on top.  

Beers are sourced from Bishop NIck, Big Drop and Jack Rabbit – all made in Essex. 

Kintsu is open five days a week, serving lunch Wednesday to Saturday and dinner Tuesday to Saturday. Tables are already being snapped up so booking is highly advised. 

“We just can’t wait to take this place to the next level. Big things are on the way,” smiles Paul. 

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